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John Bonini

By John Bonini

Apr 16, 2014


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Post-Its, Headlines, and the Mom Test: Talking Content with Jay Baer

John Bonini

By John Bonini

Apr 16, 2014

Post-Its, Headlines, and the Mom Test: Talking Content with Jay Baer

impactbnd-jay_baer-interview-2As part of our BlogAbout Interview Series, we're speaking with authors, speakers, and TED Presenters on all things content. Get your content ideas with the BlogAbout tool.

Want to know a really quick way to find out whether or not your blog is any good?

Just ask your mom.

Jay Baer does.

In fact, Baer's mom was a trusted copy editor on projects like his bestseller Youtility and also The NOW Revolution

And that's not all. 

"Once upon a time she wrote our weekly email!" said Baer. 

You can always trust mom to tell you the truth.

"If she's not genuinely interested, informed, or entertained, rethink your blogging strategy," adds Baer.

It's no wonder with a lineage steeped in transparency like that, Baer makes his living earning trust from others.

"Others" being Fortune 500 companies like Oracle,, California Tourism, Billabong, Hardee’s, and DOLE (to name a few) who with his firm Convince & Convert, help execute marketing strategies that are all about help rather than hype. 

I recently caught up with Baer to talk content, and more specifically, how companies can do it right. 

Many bloggers struggle with the blinking cursor and finding an angle to get started. What does your process look like in terms of idea generation and execution? 

I'm not sure it's ideal - in fact, it's almost assuredly not - but I'm constantly jotting down headlines on Post-it notes. I'm trying to be better about storing those ideas electronically, because my desk looks like a Post-It factory exploded.

I find that most of my ideas for posts come when I'm explaining something to a client or potential client on the phone. At least twice a week I find myself saying "hey, I should write a blog post about that." But the problem is that since I'm usually on the phone when the idea comes, I only jot down the headline quickly.

Later, when I'm ready to write I often find myself thinking, "what the hell was THIS supposed to be about?" They're like half-baked blog post ideas.

I write almost all posts on Saturday mornings, when I have fewer distractions. It helps having teenage children that sleep until noon.

What does your writing process look like? Music? Incense burning? Quiet? 

For weekly blog posts and such, I write at home on Saturdays in the family room.

For serious writing (Youtility and the Youtility ebooks series) I go to the Indiana University law library and put on headphones and get focused.  

Youtility contains case studies for many great, unique tools. Any Youtilities currently tickling your fancy? 

My favorite right now is from Asia - the Huggies Tweet Pee device that sends a direct message to the parent if the baby wets his or her diaper. It also tracks and predicts usage and recommends when diaper supplies should be restocked! 

What was the process of writing and publishing Youtility like? 

Not too bad. Youtility the book came from Youtility the keynote speech, so I had the narrative clear in my head.

Once I collected the case studies I was able to put the book together in about eight weeks. I'm hoping the next one will be that easy!  

Should everyone be blogging? I mean, in 2014 is blogging the 1995 equivalent of email in that everyone should be doing it? And if so, how do bloggers avoid "check box content marketing" as you've often referred to? 

I wouldn't say everyone should be blogging, but everyone should be making something, somehow, somewhere.

Maybe your thing is Instagram. Or Youtube. Or Pinterest.

You have expertise that other people value...find a way to give that expertise away, and where/how you do it should be the venue or mode that you enjoy the most.

The problem with most bloggers is that they don't love blogging. And it shows.  

LinkedIn recently rolled out the ability for users to contribute content through the platform. With so many self-publishing and guest blogging opportunities available, Is content saturation a concern? 

No more so than saturation of music, books, stand-up comedy or anything else. Competition forces you to improve, innovate, or fail.

The cream always rises in an open economy.  

Building off the previous question, with so much content (and noise) populating social networks like Twitter, what makes you stop and read a particular article? How can bloggers rise above the noise? 

If you're not a great headline writer and if you're not good at creating visuals, you're in big trouble moving forward in digital communication.

The game is increasingly about: picture + 10 word description. I don't love that trend, but I'm happy to capitalize upon it.  

In Youtility you talk about how great marketing is about help rather than hype. However, many company blogs are practicing the complete opposite. What advice would you give to bloggers who are struggling to find a helpful voice and as a result, an audience? 

Use the Mom test. Ask your Mom to read your blog, or particular blog post. If she's not genuinely interested, informed or entertained, rethink your blogging strategy.

If your Mom - who loves you unconditionally - doesn't love your content, why would your customers/prospective customers?

The biggest problem with most company blogs is that they are simply brochures written in WordPress.  

I love the idea of the "Mom Test." Brutal honesty is what we need in a proofreader.

My mom has three masters' degrees in English and secondary education, so she's always my copy editor on big projects like Youtilty and The NOW Revolution, and once upon a time used to write our weekly email! 

What would you say have been the greatest contributors to the success of the Convince and Convert Blog? 

Consistency. We've published between three and eight posts every week for almost six years. And we decided early-on what we weren't – a news blog like Mashable – and what we were: a place for professionals to learn about things they probably haven't read about in a ton of other places.

Understanding your audience and what they want - and how you compare to the myriad other potential information sources - is really the key to all content success, especially Youtility. 

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